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Hamas Ends Truce With Israel

Hamas' military wing backed out of a truce Friday after an Israeli artillery strike against suspected rocket-launching sites in Gaza hit a family beach picnic, killing seven people, including three children.

"The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again," said a leaflet distributed at a Hamas rally Friday night. "The resistance groups ... will choose the proper place and time for the tough, strong and unique response."

Israel and the Palestinians declared the truce in February 2005. Hamas, which has killed scores of Israelis in suicide bombings, has largely abided by the cease-fire.

Friday's attack fueled anger spawned by a fatal Israeli airstrike Thursday on a top militant commander in the Hamas-led government. Tens of thousands of people, including angry militants defiantly shooting in the air, packed a southern Gaza soccer stadium for the man's funeral.

In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called a "bloody massacre" in Gaza and called on the international community, including the United States, Europe and the U.N. Security Council, to intervene.

The Palestinian president declared a three-day mourning period and said embassies around the world would be closed and flags would fly at half staff.

Abbas, a moderate who leads Fatah, is eager to restart long-stalled peace talks with Israel, and was expected Saturday to formally announce a July 31 date for a national referendum on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sent a letter to Abbas on Friday urging him not to hold the vote and to continue negotiations over the plan. He said the referendum would divide the Palestinian people and instead proposed forming a national unity government with Fatah.

"The idea of the referendum now on the table carries many dangers," Haniyeh wrote. "I'm afraid it will cause a historic rift that will hurt the Palestinian cause for decades to come."

Public opinion polls show the two-state proposal enjoys widespread support.

The army said it was shelling areas where rockets had been fired at Israel, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. But one artillery strike appeared to go dramatically off course.

The shells struck a crowd at a beachside picnic, killing seven and wounding more than 30, Palestinian Health Minister Bassem Naim said. A woman and two children younger than 2 were among the dead, medical officials said. All the dead were believed to be related.

The barrage destroyed a tent and scattered body parts along the beach. A panicked crowd screamed and ran around in confusion as paramedics carried the bodies away.

The death toll in Gaza was the highest since Hamas took office in March after winning legislative elections.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the attack showed "the Zionist occupation ... does not distinguish between civilian children and freedom fighters."

In other developments:

  • Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won election by a landslide two months ago, but now the cornerstone of his policy is facing eroding public support, reports Berger. A poll finds that Israeli support for a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank has plummeted to just 37 percent. That's a drop from 60 percent in February, when Olmert was campaigning.
  • Olmert called President Bush and congratulated him on the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, calling it an example of the way in which terrorism must be fought and defeated. But the Hamas Palestinian government condemned the killing, saying Zarqawi is a casualty of the U.S. crusade against Arabs and Muslims.
  • Jordanian authorities have detained a 16-year-old Michigan girl who told her parents she was going to Canada, but then got on a plane to the Middle East to see a West Bank man she met on the popular Web site, her family says. Katherine Lester apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace account says he is a 25-year-old from Jericho.

    The Israeli military said its chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, ordered a halt in artillery attacks in the area while an investigation was conducted.

    "We regret any harm caused to innocent civilians," army Capt. Jacob Dallal said.

    Israel offered medical assistance, including evacuation to hospitals in Israel, to the wounded.

    The latest violence began after an Israeli airstrike killed Jamal Abu Samhadana, the highest-profile militant commander that Israel has slain in four years. He recently was commander of the Hamas government's private militia.

    Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, interpreted the attack as an assault on its government and warned Israel that Abu Samhadana's death would be avenged.

    "All options are open for the resistance groups to deliver a message to the enemy that must equal the magnitude of Abu Samhadana's loss," Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri told Hamas Radio.

    It was unclear whether Hamas, which suspended its suicide bombing war against Israel in February 2005, would take direct action against Israel or simply back other factions' operations, as it has done in the past.

    Unidentified militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets into Israel on Friday, hitting a building in the southern town of Sderot but causing no casualties, the military said. Israel retaliated with artillery fire.

    Israel frequently targets sites used by Palestinian militants to fire rockets toward Israel. Israel carried out at least three airstrikes, including one that killed three militants after they fired a rocket into Israel.

    Abu Samhadana, the leader of the small Popular Resistance Committees faction, was revered in Gaza as a key figure in Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel.

    A suspect in a deadly bombing of a U.S. convoy in Gaza in 2003, he maintained strong ties with the various Palestinian factions and belonged to one of the most powerful clans in the teeming Rafah refugee camp.

    Hundreds of gunmen escorted Abu Samhadana's body from the morgue to his house and then through the streets of Rafah on the way to the stadium. They fired thousands of bullets in the air, chanting, "God is great!" and "Revenge! Revenge!"

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